Anonymous Arab Liberals
According to the UN, in the past millennium 10,000 books have been translated into Arab, the same number as are translated into Spanish every year. In a region where 284 million people live, the bestsellers are books selling 5,000 copies. In countries whose governments range between military dictatorships and Islamic dictatorships, a man puts his life in jeopardy by translating and publishing on the Internet liberalism’s classic, ancient and modern texts.
A Shiite, in southern Iraq, has set up a web page in Arab called the “Lamp of Liberty
” which spreads liberal thought in a language that, to date, does not seem to have heard this word.
H. Ali Kamil has already translated Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law” into Arab and is working on publishing Ludwig von Mises’ “Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition” and Johan Norberg’s “In Defense of Global Capitalism”, just recently released in Spain. His website, which debuted in January with the support of the Cato Institute, already offers 40 texts. It isn’t the only one trying to bring classical liberal thought to the Middle East. In Paris, Pierre Akel manages the website Middle East Transparent
, offering Arabs in many countries a place to express their opinion.
But the Lebanese-born Akel doesn’t have to deal with two problems plaguing Ali Kamil. In France, it is still does these things out in the open, using your own name. But Iraq is a much more dangerous place –so Ali Kamil is nothing more than a pseudonym. He doesn’t like the situation because he is proud of what he is doing. “It hurts that my name cannot appear on the first page of this work –referring to his translation of ‘The Law.’” He receives help from the Cato Institute
in the US, which had the original idea of founding a classical liberal think tank in Iraq, but had to abandon it when the candidate chosen to lead it withdrew after pressure from his wife who feared for his life. At least, Ali Kamil has less trouble than the Iranians, Chinese and Cubans. These citizens’ governments actively attempt to prohibit and limit access to a free Internet.
Iraq isn’t the only place where people have to keep their names secret. There can be a lot of reasons for writing anonymously. ElBatzoki.com
offers up one we understand quite well: “the lack of freedom in the Basque Country has no comparison in the civilized world. We don’t want to be like the non-nationalist half of the Basque Parliament, forced to have bodyguards.” Things aren’t always so dramatic. Blogger and Libertad Digital contributor Borja Prieto “came out of the closet
” –that is, revealed his real name– a few months ago, explaining that he started writing about politics on the Internet at the same time “he was in the middle of rejoining the public administration, and the administration was in the middle of giving jobs to people sympathetic to the new government.”
A while back, the creator of a network of blogs at the service of PSOE started a campaign
of diatribes against anyone writing anonymously. Or more exactly, against anyone who wrote criticizing left-wing sectarian thought. Apparently, some people miss the days when everything published could lead to state reprisals against the author. One thing is for each writer to be responsible for what he or she writes, which happens by using the same pseudonym every time they write, and another is having first and last names out there for the powers-that-be to comfortably track you down and make you pay: which is the goal, both here in Spain and in Iraq.